The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The Senate and House are in session this week, and lawmakers are eager to leave D.C. as soon as this Friday, December 9. As the clock ticks, Congressional leadership remains optimistic about passing essential legislation that affects sage grouse conservation, the Everglades, and critical funding. The 115th Congress will convene on Tuesday, January 3.
Sage grouse conservation is safe—for now. On Friday, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report, which the Senate is expected to pass this week. A provision that would have allowed governors to veto sage-grouse conservation plans for federal public lands—effectively freezing the conservation status of the bird for a decade—was omitted from the report after significant push back from conservation and sportsmen’s groups. In fact, more than 3,000 sportsman-advocates responded to a TRCP action alert and sent letters urging lawmakers to allow sage grouse conservation success to continue. The exclusion of this language from the NDAA is a short-term victory though, and we’re prepared for this issue to resurface in the next Congress.
Government funding is on the docket, no strings attached. A new short-term continuing resolution (CR), which must pass before federal funds run out on Friday, will fund the government at 2016 levels through early spring, although the specific end date is not yet public. While these measures sometimes carry riders with implications outside of funding, the new CR is expected to be fairly clean.
Water legislation could bring good tidings for the Everglades. Leading members in the Senate Environment and Public Works and House Transportation and Infrastructure committees have indicated that they have come to an agreement on the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA), and they’re expected to pass it this week. The issue that kept the bill in limbo was a provision that provides emergency funds to combat the lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. Since both the Senate and House versions of WRDA include authorization of funds for the Central Everglades Planning Project and promote the use of nature-based infrastructure, such as wetlands and marshes, the final negotiated bill should include these provisions, too.
BLM Gets Locals More Involved in Public Land Management
By updating a decades-old rule, the agency is injecting more opportunities for the public to weigh in on land-use planning—and for sportsmen to make the case for habitat and recreation
The Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for overseeing 245 million acres of the nation’s public lands, has issued its final ‘Planning 2.0’ rule that will update how the agency plans for land management in the West.
The most significant change is the establishment of three additional public input periods early in the planning process to increase transparency and allow for more robust public involvement. Sportsmen and women are hopeful that these changes will increase public satisfaction in the land-use planning process and eventual management of public lands.
“Public lands are an asset to every American, and even though land-use planning has always been a public process, Planning 2.0 will allow people to weigh in early and often about the land-management decisions that impact the places they hunt and fish,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It doesn’t matter if you live in central Montana or southern New Mexico, you will now benefit from having a better seat at the table when the BLM is considering how to manage your public lands, and that means more opportunities to sustain quality hunting and fishing.”
“As an elected official representing a rural Western county, I believe the BLM’s revised planning efforts are helping us get ahead of the game, by increasing opportunities for public input and allowing all parties to roll up their sleeves and get involved before land management decisions are set in stone,” says Mike Brazell, a county commissioner in Park County, Colo. “This thorough pre-planning will help to better manage landscapes for all the ways they are used—whether it be for hunting, fishing, trailrunning, timber production, or energy development—and support our community’s ability to maintain a high quality of life and healthy local economy.”
Migratory wildlife will also benefit from better management and conservation in the new planning rule. Where there once was no specific mention of wildlife migration corridors in BLM planning documentation, now field offices must consider identifying and locating migration corridors early in the process of planning for land use. That’s good news for big game animals and hunters.
“Migration corridors are a vital habitat component for big game like mule deer, elk, and pronghorn antelope in the West,” says Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “We’ve long seen the need for more formal recognition of these areas, where animals move, feed, and rest between seasonal ranges, and we’re confident that identifying these corridors early in the planning process will reduce conflicts, while yielding better experiences afield for sportsmen and women.”
More than 8,400 hunters and anglers have signed a petition and sent letters of support for better BLM land-management tools that prioritize public access, conserve and enhance habitat, and balance development with the needs of fish and wildlife. More than 500 hunting and fishing businesses, sportsmen’s groups, and wildlife professionals have also backed the idea that BLM lands are “Sportsmen’s Country” and should be managed in ways that support sportsmen’s values, including habitat conservation and access.
A Big Game Expert Becomes a Conservation Champion in Colorado
Meet the TRCP volunteer keeping a watchful eye on energy development and habitat management in elk country
TRCP’s ambassador program calls on sportsmen-conservationists to help advance our goals by offering local volunteer support. These #PublicLandsProud hometown heroes are not willing to sit idly by as the wild places we love are lost. They know there’s more to our sports than just hunting, fishing, and going home.
Meet John Ellenberger, our newest volunteer ambassador representing the great state of Colorado. For three decades, Ellenberger worked as a wildlife biologist and big game manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and he’s seen it all. Over the years, he’s also learned that, in conservation as in hunting and fishing, there’s a time for restraint—passing on a small bull to get a chance at a monster next year or sacrificing a productive hunt to share the experience with a squirmy grandchild—and a time for action. Learn more about our Colorado ambassador and why we’re glad to have him on our side.
TRCP: What’s your earliest memory in the outdoors and how do you spend your time outside these days?
Ellenberger: My earliest outdoor memory is going rabbit hunting with my Dad and older sister. I had to be only 3 or 4 years old at the time, so it didn’t take very long before my sister and I would get tired and didn’t want to walk anymore. Dad would then carry both of us, plus his shotgun, and any rabbits he had killed, back to our car. Now that I have children and grandchildren of my own, I have a great deal of respect for the patience that my father must have had. He was willing to take two youngsters hunting with him even though he knew it would likely result in his outing being cut short because we would get tired or bored. I applaud his efforts in attempting to include us in his outdoor activities, and I try to do the same with my grandkids now, no matter how short their attention spans.
TRCP: What got you interested in TRCP and the work we do? How do you see yourself helping TRCP achieve our conservation mission?
Ellenberger: Approximately three or four years ago, Joel Webster called asking for help assessing the impacts of energy development on deer and elk habitat in northwestern Colorado. I was referred to TRCP because of my years of experience working as a wildlife biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the northwestern portion of the state. We developed a working relationship on that original issue and several others. The work TRCP was doing impressed me—your staff wasn’t simply blaming wildlife managers for declining wildlife populations or dropping hunter success rates. The organization understood the importance of protecting habitat as a way to preserve and protect wildlife populations, and you are willing to take that message to the public and try to influence them to take action in support of habitat protection issues. I wanted to be a part of that.
Beginning as a field biologist in the Northwest Region of the state in 1976, I worked for the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW), what is now Colorado Parks and Wildlife, for 33 years. I was the senior terrestrial biologist for the NW region of CDOW from 1979 to 1996, before becoming the state big game manager, and I held that position until I retired in 2004. My experience has provided me with a wealth of information about terrestrial wildlife populations in northwestern Colorado, I maintain good working relationships with wildlife managers, and I understand how the agency manages various wildlife populations for which they are responsible. Compared to the average sportsmen, all of this gives me a leg up when it comes to making science-based recommendations for conservation issues that the TRCP is involved in.
TRCP: How can everyday sportsmen make a difference for fish and wildlife? Why is it so important?
Ellenberger: Sportsmen can influence political decisions that affect wildlife populations and their habitat by first informing themselves about the issues and then contacting natural resource managers and elected officials to express their educated opinions and preferences. In Colorado and other Western states, there are numerous issues that have the potential to have negative impacts on wildlife populations and their habitats. Unless sportsmen share their opinions on projects affecting wildlife and wildlife habitat, decisions will be made that might negatively impact wildlife and sportsmen’s opportunities to utilize and enjoy wildlife resources.
TRCP: What’s the most pressing conservation issue where you live?
Ellenberger: There are a number of important conservation issues in western Colorado, but first and foremost is the impact of energy development—primarily drilling for natural gas—on wildlife and habitat. The need to oppose the transfer of ownership and management of public lands is also very important.
TRCP: What has been your most memorable hunt? What’s still on your bucket list?
Ellenberger: One of my most memorable hunts was the year I drew a bull elk tag for unit 201 in northwest Colorado. On the first day of that hunt I called a young bull to within nine yards. Although I chose not to harvest that particular bull, it was very exciting to experience that animal up close and personal, to the point that I could watch him blink and flare his nostrils as he breathed. My patience paid off as I harvested a larger bull a few days later, but it was almost anti-climactic compared to the experience of calling in that first bull.
I have two sons-in-law and two grandchildren, and I hope to be able to instill a strong interest in hunting, fishing, and conservation in all of them. Hunting and fishing trips with them would be on my bucket list.
TRCP: Where can we find you this fall?
Ellenberger: I already had the opportunity to hunt bull elk during the first rifle elk season here in Colorado. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to harvest an animal, we saw a number of elk and the total experience was enjoyable. I plan to pursue chukar partridges later this fall, and if the warm weather continues, I hope to be able to make a few more fly fishing trips to the Gunnison River. In addition to hunting and fishing, I will be out and about hiking, mountain biking, and photographing wildlife.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
The Senate and House are both in session this week, but lawmakers are eager to get out of town as soon as possible.
First thing’s first—funding. With only 16 legislative days left on the 2016 calendar, Senate and House leadership are running out of time to pass a new continuing resolution (CR)—which would keep spending at fiscal year 2016 levels—before the current CR expires on December 9. In the end-of-year funding crunch of previous years, we’ve kept a watchful eye out for dangerous riders, cuts, and provisions that would be bad for conservation, but the latest intel from Capitol Hill indicates that a clean CR should pass without any of these concerns, giving a new Congress until March 2017 to sort out long-term funding measures.
Temporary pass for sage grouse. Second on leadership’s must-pass shortlist is “The National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA) conference report. Thankfully, a House-written provision that would undo federal and state collaboration on sage-grouse conservation plans was taken out during conference negotiations, and is not included in the final report.
Looks like a Congressional tug-of-war, and sportsmen’s provisions are the rope. The ticking clock doesn’t seem to be rushing energy bill conference negotiations. Here’s the play-by-play: The initial offer came from the Senate side. Then, on November 18, the House presented a counteroffer with no sportsmen’s provisions (reminder: good things for habitat and conservation funding) included. Just after Thanksgiving break, Senate conferees issued another counteroffer, which reinstated the Land and Water Conservation Fund and other sportsmen’s provisions—what the House had taken out. Some Republican leaders in the House seem likely to view the next Congress as more favorable for energy legislation, but both Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) are still enthusiastic about reaching the finish line this month.
Everglades boost might make it through this brief window. “The Water Resource Development Act” (WRDA) is another end-of-the-year conference that could come to the House and Senate floors. Last week, committees spent several hours in a closed-door meeting discussing reconciliation of the Senate and House version of WRDA. The Senate version authorizes twice the funding for water resources projects than the House version, but both bills include provisions for the Central Everglades Planning Project and nature-based infrastructure, such as marshes and dams. Since a spending package is expected to be clean, lawmakers could use WRDA as a vehicle to pass emergency funding for the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan—in which case, WRDA could pass this year.
The Democratic Party could see some surprising changes. This week, the Democratic Caucus will meet to vote on leadership positions. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the 13-year Democratic minority leader and former speaker of the House, will be challenged by three-term freshman Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). Rep. Ryan’s district is located in the Rust Belt, an area the Democrats failed to secure in the November 8 election.
What else we’re tracking:
Wednesday, November 30
Legislation on recreational permitting on public lands, as well as two other bills, will be discussed in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing.
Winner Alert! Celebrating the Foliage, Fish, and Fall Hunts That Make Us #PublicLandsProud
Thanks to those of you in #PublicLandsProud nation who shared their best photos from your fall season spent on public lands! There were some really impressive submissions, and it was the tough job of our guest judge, Allie D’Andrea of First Lite, to ultimately select a winner. But after much deliberation, here are the winning shots:
Allie D’Andrea: “This photo steals the show for me, well the caption too. ‘Show them beautiful places, teach them conservation, and give them independence.’ Although I enjoy the solitude of public lands, I think sharing the beauty and experience with loved ones is particularly gratifying and makes the connection come full circle.” First runner-up: Instagrammer @ab_rio
Allie D’Andrea: “Let’s be honest, all of the landscape shots that were submitted into the #publiclandsproud photo contest were beautiful. It was the caption of this one (yes, you’ve swooned me with your words yet again!) in particular that strung a chord, ‘…feeling free and without a care in the world.'”
Allie D’Andrea:“Part of the romance of hunting public lands, to me, is the amount of hard work it requires. This photo bottles up that hard work in one shot, how the weight of your pack can feel so heavy yet so rewarding all at the same time.”
Thanks to everyone that tagged photos this year and showed the nation why we are #PublicLandsProud! You keep showing us what makes you #PublicLandsProud, and we’ll continue to protect your access to quality fish and wildlife habitat.
As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.